“One of the secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.” — Lewis CarrollOne of Wheeling’s best-kept secrets, the Home for Men in Warwood, is celebrating its 90th anniversary this month.
The Home for Men is truly a one-of-a-kind independent living facility for men of retirement age who live alone. “It’s like taking a cruise without the sand and water,” jokes administrator Mark Knuth, who has been at the helm of the Home for over a decade.
He’s not exaggerating, at least not much.
Men who live in the homey residence are spoiled with TLC by the 14-member staff. “I’ve never been on a cruise, so I can’t really compare it to that,” laughs resident Joe Villani. “But it really is great care — much better than people realize!”
Fellow resident Ron Ross agrees. “It’s like living in a dorm without having to go to school!” he jokes. “You just can’t beat it. I’ve been here 14 years. You get great value for the money.”
Monthly rent includes everything but telephone service and vehicle expenses. A vehicle isn’t even a necessity because the Home is on the bus line and is also within walking distance of the Warwood Shopping Plaza and the green space of Garden Park. Three delicious daily meals are served to residents in the spacious, well-appointed dining room. Twice each week, residents take turns choosing the dinner menu. Baked steak is a favorite choice, but other selections include fish, chicken or turkey dinners with all the trimmings. Beer or wine is also served with dinner if a resident requests it. Staff members take careful note of residents’ preferences and habits in an effort to make their experience as home-like as possible.
And according to Villani, the cooking can’t be beat. “The cooks are the best!” he enthuses.
Knuth says that the resident-to-staff ratio is almost one to one, as the current census at the Home stands at 16 men. At full capacity, the facility can house 21 residents, so there is some “room at the inn” right now.
Accommodations at the Home for Men include dormitory-style rooms with a shared bath; single rooms with a sitting area and ensuite bath; and even a limited number of one- and two-bedroom apartments in an adjacent building. The housekeeping team cleans each suite weekly and provides bed linens, bath towels and toilet tissue. The laundry staff members wash, fold, iron and deliver residents’ laundry on a weekly basis. Is it any wonder that female visitors want to move right in?
“It’s like a family,” says Knuth. “Our staff build a rapport with the men. The care the residents receive here adds longevity to their lives and improves their quality of life.”
Knuth and the staff are overseen by a dedicated board of directors. “We’ve been blessed,” Knuth shares. “The original endowment that built the Home was invested wisely, and the board has been very generous in investing in updates to our facility.”
THE EARLY YEARS
The endowment to which Knuth refers was bequeathed in 1919 by the late John M. Brown, a well-known Wheeling resident who envisioned a residence where local men over the age of 65 could be cared for until their final days. Brown was a banker and financier with a heart for community service and mission work. He was a director for the National Exchange Bank, Security Trust, Imperial Glass and the YMCA. In addition, Brown held a financial interest in LaBelle Steel and Wheeling Steel and Iron.
When he died in May 1919 at the age of 81, Brown left an endowment fund that would be utilized over the next 10 years to build the residential living facility at 1700 Warwood Ave. The project was completed in May 1929, and the Home for Aged Men, as it was called at the time, opened its doors under the leadership of its first administrator, Dorothy Crawford, RN. The original board of directors included some of Wheeling’s most famous residents, such as Dr. John Lindsay Dickey, Robert Ewing and Wilbur Stone, founder of Stone & Thomas department store.
The main building cost $150,000 to construct and was built to stand the test of time. The brick building is framed by walls that are 12 inches thick. The sturdiness of the physical building allowed it to be designated as a Civil Defense Fallout Shelter during the Cold War years.
Since the facility’s opening, a total of 344 men have made it their home. In the early years, residents did not pay rent, but instead turned over their financial assets to the Home in exchange for room and board, nursing care and final burial expenses at the time of their death.
In the early 1970s, both the name and the requirements for admission changed. Now known as the Home for Men, the minimum age was lowered to 62, and the payment structure was modified to a monthly rental fee model. Nowadays, the only other requirements for admission are that residents be mobile and able to care for their own personal hygiene and medication needs unassisted.
TODAY AND BEYOND
Knuth clearly enjoys his work with the residents. He is only the ninth administrator to lead the facility’s staff since the Home’s opening. Both his father and his grandfather lived at the Home, and he says he will gladly take a room there himself if the time comes.
Knuth is proud of the many recent updates to the facility, including a new elevator, heating system, awnings and suite updates. But he is even more proud of the homey, familial atmosphere that the Home provides for its residents.
“The coffee’s on here 24/7,” he smiles. Just like on a cruise ship, snacks and treats are available all day long. If that’s not enticing enough, ice cream is served nightly around 8 p.m.
“Wheeling resident Bill Beckett, who lived here prior to his passing, often said that ‘It’s not home, but it’s the next best thing to being home,'” Knuth shares.
Families of residents also seem pleased with the care that their loved ones receive.
“The Home for Men is a hidden gem in Warwood!” Villani’s daughter Denise tells Weelunk. “Mark and all who work there are simply angels. My dad has been so happy there — they are all such caring people!”
Other amenities include a library where several daily newspapers are available for the men to peruse. A large puzzle is always in the works in the main hallways. An onsite seasonal vegetable garden is tended by Ross and other residents at the back of the large parking lot where the men enjoy free parking.
There are regularly scheduled activities and outings planned to movies, shops and sporting events. Cable television service is provided in each suite. A driver is available each weekday morning to transport the men to and from medical appointments and procedures. Every five weeks, a barber and a podiatrist visit the Home for haircuts and foot care. A nurse examines the residents each week to check weight and blood pressure and to address any minor medical questions that residents may have. And the best part? There are no additional fees for any of these services.
Sometimes, the residents eventually experience medical issues that make it necessary for them to move into assisted-living facilities. “The hardest part is when it’s time for someone to go,” Knuth sighs. But when one of the men has to leave, the Home makes it a point to take a vanful of residents to visit on a regular basis. Doing so eases the transition for all concerned, and allows the residents to rest assured that they will not be forgotten by their Home for Men family if they ever need to move on.
“Our residents are a varied tapestry of personalities and backgrounds,” says Knuth.
“It makes for a really great group dynamic.” Ross concurs. “We are all from different backgrounds and walks of life. But here at the Home, we’re all the same.”
If you know of a gentleman living alone who might be a good addition to the Home for Men family, call Knuth at 304-277-1911 or visit the Home for Men’s website for additional information.
Residents and their families will be treated to an anniversary luncheon catered by Sarah’s on Main at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, May 2, to mark the 90th anniversary. A program on the Home’s history will be presented by administrator Mark Knuth and keepsake souvenir items will be gifted to residents.
• A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.